Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Caught out in the Existential Night

What are we doing here?
We’re eavesdropping, that’s what. Eavesdropping and/or seeing things we were not intended to see, trespassing on the characters’ private feelings and artifacts, in one way or, perhaps, in several ways.  We’re making ourselves privy to their secrets.  You could say we are snooping.  This is often what we do.
At any moment, we may be discovered, confronted, challenged, asked to leave.
We’re readers, is what we are doing here, yearning to make sense of our own, unresolved secrets, thinking somehow that these individuals, these characters have some technique or plan.  We know how it is with characters; they often come through at the last moment with some solution or other, achieved after a bloody showdown.  We watch for hidden clues about their vulnerability, smug in the conviction that, however well drawn they are, they are still not real as we are.

Because we have a long experience with fictional outcomes, we can see ahead in some ways to the outcome.  In other words, we patronize these characters.  We read in order to patronize them, but we don't let on.  We say instead that we read because we love words or love stories.  We follow now, alert to the banana peel on which these characters will all slip.  How easy it has become for us to distance ourselves from these dramatic incidents.  This, of course, is the key; we are separated from the core conflict through our empathy with the characters.  You, for instance, would never do what Gatsby felt he had to do in order to win Daisy.  Never mind that Daisy couldn’t be won the way Gatsby had in mind or that she wasn’t, in the long run, worth all that effort.  We can see that from our lofty vantage point.  See how easy it is?  Works every time.
We’re also writers, which is what we are doing here, looking for ways to push our characters far enough out of their ordinary index of response and need they’ll encounter when it comes to survival techniques of sufficient magnitude to impress us out of our yeah, yeah skepticism for want of a helpful insight.

You do see the trick don't you?  You push a character beyond your own imagined ability to cope.  Now the character has to cope, affect some kind of plausible closure.  Now, everyone around you marvels at your shrewdness—never mind the character’s problems.  You get the credit for solving a problem you were probably too timid to solve when it really came to pass for you to solve in real life.
After all is said and done, we’re writers, and as such, we get insights, right?  Perhaps we don’t get these insights 24/7, but often enough when we set to working on a project, right?
Okay, so we’re all looking for the least dark path, the least precipitous, the least dangerous road, reader, writer, character, in the process, bumping into each other in the darkness of existence.

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